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Imagining Alternatives to More War in Syria

Last month we read of yet another missile attack on Syria paid for by U.S., British, and French taxpayers as “punishment” of the Assad regime’s alleged used of chemical weapons. We could ask who made these governments judge, jury and executioners, or how this punishes a dictator safe in his palace, but a more useful question might be, if we were the majority of Syrians, what would we want from the international community? Would it comfort us to hear that the world cares more if our child is suffocated by gas than if she is blown apart by explosives? Would we care about token punishments, or long for safety from further violence of any kind?

Perhaps it is time to recognize that war itself can no longer bring safety to the Syrians or any of us. Mass violence by any means only causes more suffering and creates conditions for more war. Global events since WWII prove it has outlived its usefulness in achieving its popularly accepted goals of peace and security. No military power has been able to bring security to the Middle East, central Africa, or the Korean peninsula. Possessing nuclear weapons has not prevented attacks on Israel, India, or Pakistan, or kept North Korea from obtaining nuclear weapons. Even those of us in heavily militarized countries face the daily threat of nuclear annihilation by madness, terrorism, or accident.

So if war doesn’t work, how do we honor our gut response, that in the face of evil, “we have to do something”? The answer deserves a book, but let me propose two ideas for discussion. Recognizing that war requires a steady supply of weapons, we could work toward a total embargo on weapons to all parties in the region, as a first step to mitigating the conflict.

Second, the huge amounts of money and brainpower that support this war could be rechanneled into activities we know are critical for security as well as peace. The $200 million spent on 105 cruise missiles in just 70 minutes during this latest attack is a lot of money that could have been carefully applied to promising alternatives to more bombing.

This could begin with assuring that all State Department and United Nations negotiators are well funded to carry out their mission of ending the violent part of this conflict while ensuring the safety of civilians. Additional efforts could promote track two diplomatic initiatives as well—that is, outreach and interaction between and among nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that build peace. Diplomacy could this be reinforced by increased funding for numerous large NGOs experienced in relief and conflict mitigation, like the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Doctors without Borders, Oxfam, Catholic Relief Services, and the American Friends Service Committee. For areas where civilian safety is a concern, the Nonviolent Peaceforce and smaller similar organizations which have considerable experience creating safety inside conflict zones have far more applicants for their positions as unarmed civilian protectors than they can afford to hire. In addition there are hundreds of other NGOs registered with the UN who have demonstrated accomplishments in building peace and relieving human suffering.

If all attempts at “helping the Syrians” were channeled through nonviolent options like these, not only would the war end sooner, but Russia and Iran would lose their excuse for military interventions—that they need to defend themselves against US/Israeli military hegemony in the region. A second bonus would be to stem the tide of refugees that this war has created, relieving the conflict we have at home about how many new refugees to accept.

Many alternatives to war have proven track records in various arenas. It is time to bring them up to scale with large investments in human ingenuity and funding otherwise wasted on the failed strategy of war. Learn more at worldbeyondwar.org.

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